'The worst is still ahead' in coronavirus pandemic, World Health Organisation chief warns

The head of the World Health Organisation has warned "the worst is yet ahead of us" in the coronavirus outbreak, reviving the alarm just as many countries ease restrictive measures aimed at reducing its spread.

Director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus did not specify why he believes the outbreak which has infected 2.5 million people and killed more than 166,000 could get worse.

But he and others have previously pointed to the likely spread of the illness through Africa, where health systems are less developed.

"Trust us. The worst is yet ahead of us," he told reporters from WHO headquarters in Geneva.

He added: "Let’s prevent this tragedy. It’s a virus that many people still don’t understand."

Farmers harvest bananas at a plantain farm at Daranggiri village in India. Credit: AP

Some Asian and European governments have gradually eased or started relaxing lockdown measures like quarantines, school and business closures and restrictions on public gatherings, citing a decline in the growth of Covid-19 cases and deaths.

Mr Tedros and his agency have been on the defensiveafter President Donald Trump of the US - the WHO's biggest single donor - last week ordered a halt to US funding for the agency, alleging it botched the early response to the outbreak.

Among other things, Mr Trump insisted the WHO had failed to adequately share "in a timely and transparent" way information about the outbreak after it erupted in China late last year.

Mr Tedros said: "There is no secret in WHO because keeping things confidential or secret is dangerous. It’s a health issue.

"This virus is dangerous. It exploits cracks between us when we have differences."

South African National Defense Forces patrol the Sjwetla informal settlement after pushing back residents into their homes. Credit: AP

He said US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention staff have been seconded to work with his agency, suggesting that was a sign of the WHO’s transparency.

"Having CDC staff means there is nothing hidden from the US from day one" Mr Tedros said. "Our CDC colleagues also know that we give information immediately to anyone."

In one of his starkest comparisons yet, the UN health agency chief also alluded to the Spanish Flu more than a century ago, saying the coronavirus has a "very dangerous combination… like the 1918 flu that killed up to 100 million people".

He called the illness "Public Enemy Number One" and said: "We have been warning from day one: this is a devil that everybody should fight."

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